New Ideas for Outreach at Archives*Records 2016

This post was written by guest contributor Chloë Edwards, who is a digital records archivist at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and session chair of “Remembering the Afterthoughts: Outreach to Archives’ Underserved Constituents.”

As early career employees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), Krista Sorenson and I were interested in finding a way to participate in this year’s joint SAA-CoSA conference.  When thinking up a session proposal our biggest goal was to create a session we would want to attend, something with a practical focus that could speak to the daily work of archives. It came down to outreach for a couple of reasons. First, whether you work for state government, a university or a corporation, whether you’re a lone arranger or one staff member out of 50, we all have to do outreach in one form or another. Second, Krista and I both work on different outreach programs at MDAH that have been fairly successful and easy to implement at little or no cost, and we knew we couldn’t be the only people with good outreach ideas to share.

With this in mind, we realized that the lightning round format would be a great fit. We could bring together a much larger group of people to tap into a wider range of experiences. Even better, each session participant would get just a few minutes to share the basics of their most interesting or most successful outreach programs without getting bogged down in the institution-specific details that can make other people’s programming seem inappropriate or out of reach for your context. Recruiting a mix of state government and university archivists would let us and the audience learn from the best of what two professional groups that don’t always interact have to offer.

To that end, finding a good mix of speakers was going to be the key to our panel’s success. We thought long and hard about where we wanted to reach out. At this session you will hear from early and mid-career professionals working in institutions across the southeast. Limiting the search to this geographic area was a strategic decision. Conceptually, it provided a nice geographic theme to tie everything together. Practically, recruiting would be easier if those with limited travel budgets—especially other state government archivists—were in driving distance of Atlanta.

We ended up with a fantastic group who were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about participating. Two of our speakers come from small, private, liberal arts colleges, one secular (Oglethorpe University) and one affiliated with the Baptist Commission (Samford University). Another speaker represents the Georgia Institute of Technology, a large, public research university that was founded as a school to train engineers after the Civil War. Also represented is Duke University, a highly ranked private research university in North Carolina, and most uniquely, the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of historically black colleges and universities whose Robert W. Woodruff Library serves the student body of three separate institutions.

Our government archives speakers come from the Library of Virginia, which serves as both the state library and state archives for the Commonwealth; the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, which grew out of the dedicated collecting work of the South Carolina Historical Society; and of course, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, one of the nation’s few comprehensive state historical agencies.

The outreach initiatives you will hear about in our session are similarly varied:

  • Jessica Hills from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History will talk about SCDAH’s annual electronic records training day for state agency employees.
  • Krista Sorenson from MDAH will discuss how the Local Government Records Office has worked to deliver individualized training to county governments across Mississippi.
  • Amy McDonald of Duke University will discuss her pop-up outreach to student groups on the Duke campus.
  • Jody Thompson of Georgia Tech will share how she has reached out to working architects to bring their collections into the archives.
  • Eli Arnold from Oglethorpe University will impart how on-campus exhibits have helped foster cross-campus connections.
  • Claire Radcliffe of the Library of Virginia will talk about collections blogging at LVA.
  • Chloë Edwards from MDAH will discuss the department’s efforts to bring the archives to the state legislature.
  • Rachel Cohen of Samford University, a Baptist institution, will share how the archives has bolstered its connection with the Baptist Historical Commission.
  • Andrea Jackson of the Robert W. Woodruff Library will discuss her efforts to promote the Tupac Amaru Shakur Collection through events including a block party and on-site conference.

We look forward to sharing our stories with you in Atlanta next month!

The lightning round “Remembering the Afterthoughts: Outreach to Archives’ Underserved Constituents” will take place at Archives*Records 2016 on Saturday, August 6th at 10:30 am.


Effective Media Relations for Your Archives

This post was authored by guest contributor Erin Lawrimore, University Archivist, University of North Carolina Greensboro


Working with journalists in any medium – tv, radio, print, electronic, etc. – requires a strong focus on relationship building, an understanding of the person or venue you are targeting, and an effective press release to concisely convey your key points. Without a little leg work, you

The wonderful day we had not one but TWO archive story on the University's homepage.

The wonderful day we had not one but TWO archives stories on the University’s homepage. Campus-based journalists and feature writers are interested in local, interesting content.

might be wasting your time writing and sending information off into a media abyss.

First, the key word to remember in talking about media relations is “relations.” Effective media relations is all about building the relationships with the right people. Don’t wait until you have a story in hand to contact your local press. Instead, put your information-finding skills to the test and learn all that you can learn about particular reports and media outlets in your local area. Who has written about issues or events similar to yours in the past? Who has an audience similar to the one you are trying to reach?

When you’ve identified individuals you can target with your news information, contact these folks directly. Ask them to meet you in a coffee shop near their base of operations. See if they would be interested in coming to meet you in the archives. Try to get a face-to-face meeting so that you can continue to build your relationship. A potential bonus: If you establish yourself as a useful source for local information, the reporter may turn to you for guidance on future pieces that are tangentially related to your work.

With relationships in place, your press release will carry a bit more clout. If the reporter knows you, she’s more likely to read your email and not simply delete it along with the others received during the day. But, even with an established relationship, you need to make sure that your press release is a good one. Here are a few tips for making sure that your press release is one that will catch the attention of a busy journalist:

  • Be sure that what you have to say is really newsworthy. Don’t flood your new reporter friend’s inbox with notes about every event, activity, or acquisition. Focus in on the really important things that have a strong, and potentially lasting, community impact.
  • Create an informative, jargon- and acronym-free headline that would allow a reasonably-intelligent person to understand the importance of your message.
  • Write in a clear and concise manner. Think Strunk and White (or read The Elements of Style if you haven’t already). Avoid passive voice (“The archives hosts…” instead of “The archives has been hosting…”).
  • Keep your release short, factual, and to the point. Aim for 500 words or less (definitely keep it to one page!), and include links to your website for additional information.
  • Focus on your opening sentence. This is your sales pitch. It needs to contain all of your critical information (who, what, when, and where), and it needs to convince the busy reporter to read on.
  • Don’t forget to include contact information (name, email, and telephone number)!

Filming a segment on our special collections for C-SPAN’s 2015 Cities Tour

When you’ve written your press release, email it to those reporters you identified as covering similar topics or reaching your intended audience. You can include it as the text of the email itself (remembering the importance of the subject line), or you can attach a PDF to the email message. If you choose to go with an attachment, write a factual, one-paragraph message for the email itself then point to the attachment. Or, if you have an institutional blog, send the one-paragraph message with a link to a lengthier blog post on the topic.

Remember that journalists are busy, busy folks, and your press release is far from the only one they will receive on any given day. Think about reporters’ deadlines and schedules before sending a press release. For instance, many print reporters will appreciate releases early in the morning as opposed to the afternoon. Additionally, avoid the urge to call the reporter directly immediately after sending the email. It’s doubtful that the message got lost in the internet ether, but it’s likely that the hard-working reporter hasn’t had time to read it. Bugging her isn’t going to get your message read any quicker.

Finally, if a reporter does indeed report on your event or activity, either by using your press release directly or giving you any kind of media coverage, follow up with a “thank you.” And, two or three months after your event, follow up again with a quick email to let the reporter know how the event went or what the lasting impact of the activity has been. This will give your journalist friend a sense of how you fit in to the greater community – your impact and influence. Also, this can be an incentive to report on you even more when the next big story pops up!

Have other tips about or examples of successful media relations? Share in the comments below or consider contributing them to ArchivesAWARE! Read more about the submission process on the About page, and send your ideas or drafts to the editors at